Clickbait, CNN and the election: We are responsible for the mess

October 11, 2016 — by Kyle Wang

It’s easy to blame CNN, NBC and virtually every other TV network whose name is a three-letter acronym for the mess that has become the 2016 election.

Yes, they have consistently provided Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump with far more coverage than moderate candidates because his statements are inherently more radical, more interesting — more appalling, even, to a slice of the general public.

But, in spite of all the superficiality, the general public still tunes in to watch this coverage. They still read the clickbait-y articles and roll their eyes when they see videos of Trump in their newsfeeds, only to watch them anyway.

They, ultimately, give these media companies — from Buzzfeed to CBS — an audience. So the blame falls on them as much as it does on the often criticized mass media.

To begin with, sites like BuzzFeed release stories based purely on readers’ interest; if a story generates more “buzz,” then BuzzFeed will release more similar stories in the future.

In one article about Trump, for example, BuzzFeed released a supposed “news” story titled “Thirteen Times Trump was wrong about being the first to campaign in front of a plane,” which is neither directly newsworthy in any sense of the word nor relevant to any political election. Yes, that politicians frequently lie and exaggerate is a major problem — but that’s not something that BuzzFeed, which is no bastion of objective or thorough reporting by any standard, should be out to stop.

To clarify, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this clickbait. BuzzFeed, with all of its semi-filtered randomness and chaos, is a fantastic antidote for boredom on a Saturday night.

But problems arise when we begin using websites like BuzzFeed as our primary source for news and information — one Pew Research Center survey found that 62 percent of polled adults get their news via a social media website like Facebook, where clickbait sites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy dominate.

As for TV channels like CNN, whose anchors once paused an interview with a cybersecurity analyst during the height of the Snowden controversy to release a “special report” that Justin Bieber had been arrested, there isn’t much to say. Those who choose to continue watching do so at their own risk.

Of course, pointing at clickbait-y websites and shallow news networks helps to absolve the blame that rests on our shoulders. But, in the internet age, we are given a choice as to what we read and what information we find. Moderate, qualified candidates such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, have been the frontrunners for this presidential race, but both floundered in the primaries after receiving sparse media coverage and public attention.

Blame CNN, blame BuzzFeed, blame whomever you’d like, but all the information about these candidates and their political views was free and open for the world to read online. But at times in 2015 and 2016, it seemed as though the people had already voted long before the primaries were over — and voted based not on political substance, but on flair, style and name recognition.

Naturally, not everybody enjoys reading dense political analyses about each candidate’s policy platform, but good, educated citizenship should and does not require a PolySci major’s interest in current affairs. These are things we should care about — not Donald Trump’s latest, most un-presidential insult, which isn’t a surprise to anybody.

The Washington Post, The New York Times — heck, even good old PBS — are all good alternatives to clickbait with clear, easy to follow reporting on the 2016 election. But these traditional media companies have sometimes struggled to find audiences in an era where audiences are more interested in watching cat videos than reading a brief overview of current affairs.

Again, this article should not be read as a defense of the mass media, whose behavior is just as shameful as our own apathy.

But after a certain point we have to wonder who allows these companies to continue pawning off entertainment as news.

It’s our fault, ultimately, if we choose cat videos and clickbait over good, old-fashioned reporting on the issues.